Zuma fights back
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Cape Town - An agitated President Jacob Zuma hit back at the opposition on Wednesday, saying that at no point had he dodged Parliament, as the “pay back the money” question came back to bedevil the National Assembly.
Zuma also said he would not be paying back any money on the Nkandla upgrades until there was a determination by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, in collaboration with the National Treasury.
“Why are you saying I must pay back the money? You don’t even know how much. You don’t even know the final answer on whether I will have to pay back the money,” Zuma said, pointing at opposition benches.
This resulted in objections from EFF MPs, who pleaded with Speaker Baleka Mbete to admonish him.
“Honourable member, maybe the president should withdraw the finger,” Mbete said.
A giggling Zuma replied: “I withdraw my finger.”
MPs howled with laughter as Zuma took his index finger and physically withdrew it.
He added that whenever Parliament requested him to come to Parliament, he made time.
“I’ve never refused. I was standing here (on August 21) having not refused, having not dodged to answer questions in Parliament as you have been saying, up to that day I’ve never. I was sitting here and I answered two questions of the six.
“The third one I answered many times. I was asked by the EFF many times. I answered the question. They wanted the answer they want, not what I was answering,” said Zuma to applause from the ANC benches.
The question-and-answer session was delayed by more than an hour as MPs debated and pleaded with the Speaker to get Zuma to answer outstanding questions.
In almost a repeat of his response to the debate on his State of the Nation address last month, Zuma took MPs head-on as he responded to a barrage of questions, from the Nkandla upgrades to the criminal justice system and the economy.
Zuma also placed the blame on the EFF for the August 21 sitting during which its members chanted “pay back the money”.
Zuma at one point was forced to speak over the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who had risen on a point of order, ignoring the Speaker’s requests for him to sit down.
Responding to a follow-up question from DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane on a date to deal with outstanding questions, Zuma said: “I’m not giving you a date, I don’t give dates.”
EFF leader Julius Malema said the public protector had said “you must pay for non-security features”.
“The SIU (Special Investigating Unit) has conducted an investigation and has put the figure on non-security features. The point is, you need to commit that once the police minister, working with Finance, has determined as the remedial actions of the public protector on how much needs to be paid. Will you indeed comply with the public protector’s remedial actions?” Malema asked.
Zuma said the government task team investigation “did not find that I took even a penny”.
“Then the public protector made recommendations, and recommendations are recommendations and are not verdicts,” he said defiantly.
Zuma will be back in Parliament on May 14, when he will respond to oral questions in the National Council of Provinces.
Meanwhile, the Cape Town Press Club and the DA condemned the alleged manhandling of Media24 journalist Jan Gerber outside Parliament on Wednesday.
“We call on the Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete to immediately launch a probe into this incident,” the club said in a statement.
The incident, during which officers in white shirts allegedly forced Gerber to the ground and forced him to delete photographs, came barely a month after MPs were manhandled and forcibly ejected from the National Assembly during the State of the Nation address.
“Thuggery cannot be allowed at Parliament,” the press club said.
Earlier, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said five people in white shirts, who identified themselves as members of the police VIP protection services, had dragged Gerber to the ground opposite the SAPS office in Plein Street and forced him to delete his photographs. The journalist sustained scratches and bruises.
Sanef said it would confront police commissioner General Riah Phiyega’s office about the incident.
“This is the latest incident of intimidation despite promises by senior police officers and Riah Phiyega that such illegal behaviour would be stopped.”
Sanef encouraged Gerber to lay a criminal charge and consider instituting civil action.
Phiyega’s spokesman said he would respond to questions later.
EFF MPs were removed from the National Assembly chamber, also by officers in white shirts, during Zuma’s State of the Nation address on February 12.
The DA walked out of the proceedings in protest. – Additional reporting by African News Agency and Sapa